The best historical fiction novels about surviving the African American experience

Why am I passionate about this?

Michelle Coles is a novelist, public speaker, and former civil rights attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice. As a 9th generation Louisianan, she is highly attuned to the struggles that African Americans have faced in overcoming the legacy of slavery and the periods of government-sanctioned discrimination that followed. Her goal in writing is to empower young people by educating them about history and giving them the tools to shape their own destiny. Michelle, named to the John Lewis Foundation’s 2022 list of Good Troublemakers, lives in Maryland with her husband and their five sons.


I wrote...

Book cover of Black Was the Ink

What is my book about?

Black Was the Ink is a young adult historical fiction novel about the Reconstruction Era told through the eyes of Malcolm, a modern teenage boy from D.C., who embarks on a miraculous journey to post-Civil War America through the help of a ghostly ancestor. There, Malcolm witnesses the historic contributions of Black legislators, who worked alongside white allies to bring justice, education, and land ownership to America’s newest citizens. 

Black Was the Ink has won numerous awards including the 2022 Grateful American Book Prize, a 2022 Skipping Stones Honor Award, a 2023 In the Margins Award, and Lee and Low’s 2019 New Vision Honor Award. In Fall 2023, Black Was the Ink will be featured in the highly-selective interactive library at Planet Word Museum in Washington, D.C.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Homegoing

Michelle Coles Why did I love this book?

Homegoing is a powerful novel that seamlessly weaves together different eras of the African American experience by highlighting the struggles that one family faces across generations from enslavement to segregation to modern challenges that stem from those troubling legacies.

At the same time, the novel similarly examines the generational challenges of a distantly-related family in Ghana and shows how the two family’s fates are cosmically intertwined.

By Yaa Gyasi,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked Homegoing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A BBC Top 100 Novels that Shaped Our World

Effia and Esi: two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery; one a slave trader's wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow. Taking us from the Gold Coast of Africa to the cotton-picking plantations of Mississippi; from the missionary schools of Ghana to the dive bars of Harlem, spanning three continents and seven generations, Yaa Gyasi has written a miraculous novel - the intimate, gripping story of a brilliantly vivid cast of characters and through their lives the very story of America itself.…


Book cover of Kindred

Michelle Coles Why did I love this book?

Kindred is an incredible novel that uses time travel to highlight the horrors of slavery by transporting a modern African American woman from California to the Virginian plantation where her ancestors were enslaved.

Through this experience, she gains a deeper appreciation for her ancestors’ strength and a better understanding of herself. 

By Octavia E. Butler,

Why should I read it?

15 authors picked Kindred as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the New York Times bestselling author of Parable of the Sower and MacArthur “Genius” Grant, Nebula, and Hugo award winner

The visionary time-travel classic whose Black female hero is pulled through time to face the horrors of American slavery and explores the impacts of racism, sexism, and white supremacy then and now.

“I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm.”

Dana’s torment begins when she suddenly vanishes on her 26th birthday from California, 1976, and is dragged through time to antebellum Maryland to rescue a boy named Rufus, heir to a slaveowner’s plantation. She soon…


Book cover of Ghost Boys

Michelle Coles Why did I love this book?

Ghost Boys is an engaging middle-grade novel about a modern African American child who is killed by the police but doesn’t realize he is dead.

He is then guided to the afterlife by the ghost of Emmet Till and other Black boys who were murdered in racist attacks, thereby highlighting the unique dangers that African American children face.

By Jewell Parker Rhodes,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Ghost Boys as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

A heartbreaking and powerful story about a black boy killed by a police officer, drawing connections through history, from award-winning author Jewell Parker Rhodes.

Only the living can make the world better. Live and make it better.

Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. As a ghost, he observes the devastation that's been unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing.

Soon Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances. Emmett…


Book cover of Wench

Michelle Coles Why did I love this book?

Wench is an excellent novel about four enslaved African American women who are concubines to their wealthy white plantation owners.

It chronicles their attempts to carve out a space for their happiness in the incredibly oppressive era of American slavery. This novel forces readers to contemplate how they would preserve their humanity in the absence of bodily autonomy. 

By Dolen Perkins-Valdez,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Wench as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is startling and original fiction that raises provocative questions of power and freedom, love and dependence. An enchanting and unforgettable novel based on little-known fact, Wench combines the narrative allure of Cane River by Lalita Tademy and the moral complexities of Edward P. Jones’s The Known World as it tells the story of four black enslaved women in the years preceding the Civil War. A stunning debut novel, Wench marks author Perkins-Valdez—previously a finalist for the 2009 Robert Olen Butler Short Fiction Prize—as a writer destined for greatness.


Book cover of Angel of Greenwood

Michelle Coles Why did I love this book?

Angel of Greenwood is a fantastic young adult novel about two young kids who fall in love in Tulsa, Oklahoma on the cusp of the Tulsa Massacre, a harrowing event in which their prosperous Black community was burnt to the ground by white vigilantes.

By setting a normal teen romance against this backdrop, the reader can appreciate how disruptive racism is to people’s attempts to live a normal life and how lasting the damage can be.

By Randi Pink,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Angel of Greenwood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Angel of Greenwood by Randi Pink is a piercing, unforgettable love story set in Greenwood, Oklahoma, also known as the “Black Wall Street,” and against the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921.

Isaiah Wilson is, on the surface, a town troublemaker, but is hiding that he is an avid reader and secret poet, never leaving home without his journal. Angel Hill is a loner, mostly disregarded by her peers as a goody-goody. Her father is dying, and her family’s financial situation is in turmoil.

Though they’ve attended the same schools, Isaiah never noticed Angel as anything but a dorky, Bible toting…


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Price of Vengeance

By Kurt D. Springs,

Book cover of Price of Vengeance

Kurt D. Springs

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Teacher Cook Barista Guardian

Kurt's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Liam was orphaned at the age of two by a group of giant carnivorous insects called the chitin. Taken in by High Councilor Marcus and his wife, Lidia, Liam was raised with their older son, Randolf in New Olympia, the last remaining city on the planet Etrusci.

As an adult, Liam becomes a soldier. After being cut off from the city, Liam finds that there is an alien intelligence behind the chitin. To defeat it, he must discover who he is and how to use his powers. Then, Liam discovers that a traitor, responsible for his birth parents' deaths, had murdered his beloved foster parents. Will the price he has to pay in his quest for vengeance prove to be an even more unbeatable foe?

Price of Vengeance

By Kurt D. Springs,

What is this book about?

"From the cover to the opening pages, Price of Vengeance grabs the reader and takes them on a wild ride. Fasten your seat belts for this book." -S. J. Francis, author of Shattered Lies

What is the Price of Vengeance? One could understand why Liam was angry. He was orphaned at the age of two by a group of giant carnivorous insects called the chitin. Taken in by High Councilor Marcus and his wife, Lidia, Liam was raised with their older son, Randolf in New Olympia, the last remaining city on the planet Etrusci.

As an adult, Liam becomes a…


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